Thursday, November 3, 2016

St. Mary's Playoff Game Preview: The Juggernaut Awaits

by Tom Condardo

In 2007, the high flying New England Patriots rolled into Super Bowl XLII with a unblemished 18-0 record hoping to become the first team in NFL history to go undefeated in a 19 game season. The New York Giants, 10-6 in the regular season and barely making it into the playoffs as a NFC wildcard, came into the game as a 12 point underdog. The result: Thanks to the miraculous "Helmet Catch" by David Tyree, the Giants edged the Pats 17-14 to become Super Bowl Champions.

In 1980, the Soviet Union came into the Olympics having won the gold medal in six of the seven previous games. They also had won 12 of the prior 15 World Championship tournaments. In the prior four Olympics, the Soviets went 27-1-1 and outscored the opposition 175-44.

In head to head matchups, the Soviets outscored the U.S. 27-8. In 1979, The Soviets went 5-3-1 against an NHL All Star team. The U. S. team was made up of a group of college players 5-10 years younger then the Russians. The Americans were 1000-1 underdogs to beat the Soviet Union. The result: The U. S. upset the Soviet machine 4-3 and went on to win the Gold Medal two days later.

In 1977, the Pioneers under head coach Bill Rodan had struggled through their first eight games and sported a 2-6 record. Week eight was the low point as the Pioneers suffered their most lopsided loss of the year, a 27-8 beating at the hands of Ipswich. And things were about to get worse. In their final game before Thanksgiving, the Pioneers had to face the undefeated Newburyport Clippers, the CAL juggernaut at the time.

The Clippers sailed onto Pioneer Field at the Lynnfield Middle School not only with a perfect 8-0 record, but winners of 38 straight games - at the time the longest winning streak in the state. No one gave the Pioneers a chance and they were expected to roll over for Newburyport in what was expected to be an easy 39th win in a row.

The Pioneer defense played their best game of the year. They held the Clippers to zero first downs in the opening quarter and 13 total yards in the first half. The home team mounted a 50 yard drive in the second quarter and Eric Hansen, the fifth leading scorer in LHS history, bulled in from the two to give the Pioneers a 6-0 lead. .

The Clippers threatened several times in the second half, marching to the Lynnfield 13 yard line once and recovering a fumble at the Pioneer six another time. Both bids ended with interceptions by Rich Erb and the Pioneers held on for a monumental 6-0 upset win over the stunned Clippers.

My point? You have to play the games.

The Pioneers come into Friday night's game against undefeated St. Mary's as prohibitive underdogs. The Spartans have eviscerated every team in its path on the way to eight straight wins. They are averaging 42 points a game while allowing only 8. Their smallest margin of victory was 26 in a 38-12 win over Lynn English.

As Pioneer head coach Neal Weidman said to me, "no one has come close to them yet."

"Looking at the scores they're obviously deserving of the top seed," Weidman continued. "We'll have to have a good week of practice and play a fantastic game obviously."

Although the Spartans present a monumental road block, let's look ahead to what this game means for the Pioneers. Number two seed Shawsheen and number three seed Greater Lawrence were both knocked off last weekend. That means if the number four seed Pioneers can pull the upset over the top seeded Spartans, they would host the winner of the Ipswich-Stoneham game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

With the new alignment, Western Mass does not have a Division 3A leaving only winners of the North, South, and Central so there is rotating bye in the state semi finals. This year the bye happens to go the the North winner who will therefore head straight to the Super Bowl to face the winner of the South-Central semi-final.

Bottom line? Let's play the game.

Double Trouble
The Spartans run a double wing offense with tight splits, reminiscent of the Holliston "War" package the Pioneers faced in the D4 Semi-Finals in 2014. The Spartan offense is led by a pair of dynamic running backs in Abraham Toe and Calvin Johnson. Johnson is the second leading scorer in D3A with 137 points and 21 touchdowns. Toe is fifth with 96 points on 12 TDs.

Quarterback Marcus Atkins rarely throws but when he does, he's usually looking for one of those two out of the backfield. That's a weapon they use when the defense sells out to stop the devastating running game.

If you want to get a preview of the double wing offense, check out this You Tube clip. It's what you'll be seeing a lot of on Friday night.

Double Vision
Speaking of Holliston, they are a reasonable facsimile of St. Mary's, especially on defense. They are not overly big but fast, quick, and athletic. Holliston was able to bottle up the Lynnfield spread offense by funneling everything to the outside and getting the Pioneers to run sideways and then using their team speed to blow up the play. Expect St. Mary's to try something similar.

Schedule Comparison
It's tough to compare the schedules of Lynnfield and St. Mary's but here goes. The combined record of the Pioneer opponents is 29-26 with 3 having winning records, 1 at .500, and 3 with losing marks. They played 3 teams from a higher division, 3 in their own division, and 1 in a lower division. Five of their opponents made the playoffs and three are still alive playing in this weekend's division semi-finals.

The combined record of the Spartans' opponents is 25-38 with three having winning records and five having losing marks. They played 5 teams from a higher division, 2 in their own division, and 1 in a lower division. Four of their opponents made the playoffs and three are still alive playing in the semi finals this weekend.

Rubber Match
This will be the third meeting between the schools. In 1991 under head coach Bill Adams, the Pioneers whitewashed the Spartans 36-0. Twenty years later in 2011, St. Mary's returned the favor to the Weidman-led Pioneers with a 40-16 win.

Game time at Manning Field in Lynn is 7 pm.

That's it for now. Check back Sunday night for my Leftovers post.

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